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Every year the combined East Carolina University’s orchestra and choirs present a major concert. It needs to be noted at the outset that the orchestra and the choirs are made up of students. This performance was of the Horn Concerto No. 2 in D, Hob. VIId-4 by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Requiem, Op.48, of Gabriel Fauré. The venue was the extremely reverberant church of St. Paul (Episcopal). For this concert, as usual, all the chairs were reversed to face liturgical west and more chairs were brought in. This very enthusiastic audience was standing room only. When I arrived almost an hour early, about a third of the seats were already occupied.
Half an hour before curtain, we received a wonderful surprise, a musicological lecture by Professor Kevin N. Moll, of the ECU musicology department. Dr. Moll discussed the Haydn at length, then turned to the Fauré. Unfortunately his offering was largely unintelligible, at least from the seventh row, due to the resonant acoustic and the inevitable problems with a hand-held microphone to anyone unaccustomed to these devices. Moll received a Ph.D. from Stanford University and an M.M. from New England Conservatory.
The Haydn employed only partial resources of the orchestra, a large string band joined by the skilled horn work of Alex Williams, who I believe from her introduction is a distinguished alumna of ECU. Aidan McManis, an ECU undergraduate majoring in double bass performance and conducting, ably conducted the reduced orchestra.
The first movement of the Haydn, Allegro moderato, begins with a soothing passage from the strings before the horn entry. Williams' horn truly sang, and her lip trills were neat and accurate. The directional confusion of the room made it totally unclear where the sound was coming from when the horn entered. McManis handled the orchestra impeccably, bringing them in spot on at the end of Williams' ad libs. In the second movement, Adagio, McManis demonstrated his ability at loud and soft, carefully executed by the orchestra. Williams' playing was smooth and stately. A little bit of a Haydn horn Adagio goes a long way; the composer missed several good places to stop. The third movement, Allegro, showed a not-complete tempo agreement between the soloist, the conductor, and the strings. The horn, here front and center instead of its usual orchestral position, was clearly not completely housebroken. Williams had complete control over her instrument and showed complete understanding of the difficult acoustic of the church. She paused perfectly to allow the room to clear between phrases of her hunting horn fanfare-like ad lib solos.
The full choir and orchestra was huge. The program credited 114 singers and 72 instrumentalists, not including Prof. Andrew Scanlon on the organ, or the unlisted harpist. It took ten minutes just to get every one in place.
Dr. Jorge Richter, conductor of the symphony orchestra, led the combined ensemble.
The seven movements of Fauré's Requiem begin with an Introit and Kyrie. The fresh young voices and the fresh playing of the orchestra were delightful. The size of the group was excellent for the piece; even fortissimo by all did not cause the acoustical break-up that I have heard here at other times. Richter maintained good control of these resources at all times.
The Offertoire begins with shimmering strings, soon backed up by the organ. This contrasted nicely with the chorus; much of the choral work in the Offertoire was a capella or joined by very restrained strings. The stately appearance of Prof. John Kramar, baritone soloist, cast an ominous tone from the wings.
The Sanctus was smooth, graceful, and controlled.
The Pie Jesu solo part was sung by Dr. Rachel Copeland. Her powerful voice with lots of vibrato seems to suit Fauré perfectly. Richter kept the orchestra well reined in, giving prominence to Copeland.
The lush and melodic Agnus Dei shone particularly at the first entrance of the men's voices – dead on. The composition was dark and murky in the middle, but the return of the first theme was glorious.
The Libera Me was enriched by the solo work of Kramar. Judging by the sudden jerk of several heads in the audience, several people gave enactment to the old folk song, “The horn, the horn, awakes me at morn.” There was a very audible clunk of the general cancel on the organ in the hush at the end of this movement.
In Paradisum, the final movement, had a distinctive, repetitive organ part repeating over the strings.
The amount of work that these young people put in during the year must be tremendous, to get such excellent and professional results. Bravi!